Archive for October, 2010

Bernard Ollivier: Longue Marche 1

October 18, 2010

51rBtL2fDoL._AA160_ I’ve been fascinated by the Silk Road/ Silk Route, and descriptions of travel along it, for a number of years; there are a lot of very interesting accounts out there.  But Bernard Ollivier was a sixty year-old retired journalist when he decided to walk from Istanbul to Xian, carrying only a backpack and trusting to fortune.  He didn’t do it all in one go, but planned a route carefully to allow him to complete a section one year, go back home to Normandy and then go back and begin again where he’d left off, the following year…

This volume follows him across Turkey almost to the border with Iran, when he is floored by amoebic dysentery and eventually evacuated as a medical emergency, and taken back to Istanbul.

He’s trusting (sometimes to the point of naivete) and open to all encounters and situations, and meets a wide variety of people as he walks.  The standard reactions to him are that he must be insane to walk – so many people want to offer him lifts – and that, as a European, he must be very rich, and therefore worth robbing.

The book is a straightforward account of his travels; it could have done with a better map.  I admire him for his guts and energy, and his willingness to encounter the world when so many of us seem increasingly to be afraid of ‘the other’.

I’ve begun the second volume…

Elizabeth Howard: Across Barriers

October 3, 2010

A curious little book, and one of those which gives an interesting because no longer possible perspective on the years leading up to the Second World War; it tells of the travels, encounters and troubles of Quakers in Nazi Germany and their efforts to help gain the release of prisoners of conscience or religion. The Nazis’ increasing confidence and arrogance comes over chillingly, precisely because we now have the hindsight that she didn’t when she wrote. The book ends with the start of the war.

The First World War: cerise Penguins

October 3, 2010

I’ve begun collecting early Penguin paperbacks, not in a systematic fashion, but because I realised there was some interesting long-lost travel writing in the early volumes with the cerise covers, so I now look out for them at book fairs and in second-hand shops. Interestingly the category is sometimes listed as ‘Travel & Adventure’ and sometimes as ‘Adventure’.

I recently found three that were written about the First World War, which is another of my literary interests, partly because I teach FWW literature at school.

‘Within Four Walls: A Classic of Escape’ read almost like Boys’ Own Paper yarns; two officers prisoners in Germany virtually from the start of the war, making repeated attempts to escape and reach freedom in Holland, and often recaptured at the very last minute. They did eventually make it, separately.

‘Two Vagabonds in Serbia and Montenegro’ was rather rambling and incoherent travelling around as medics; it reminded me of Svejk’s adventures more than anything else.

The most interesting of the three was ‘The Dark Invader’, an account by a German agent who spent a lot of time trying to sabotage the Allied war effort and sink its shipping, mainly from his base in the United States. Eventually he was caught and seemed to feel very hard done by as he spent several years in prison. After the war he met up with a number of the Brits whom he plotted and planned against, and either outwitted or was outwitted by; there seemed to be no hard feelings, as if it had all been a gentlemen’s game played by the rules. It was an eye-opening view of the earlier days of espionage, though.

None of these would I particularly recommend, but they were interesting little sidelights on the territory.

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